Happy Hands in Broken Arrow Helps Kids Communicate
Communication is a lifelong learning process beginning at birth. But did you know that 75 percent of all the communication we learn happens in our first few years of life? Research has shown that the early stages of a child’s development of language and pre-literacy skills happen primarily between the ages of birth to age 3. Just think, almost everything that you have learned about communicating with the world around you happened before you were 3 years old. Now imagine if it hadn’t. Sadly, that’s the reality for millions of children born with hearing loss or communication disorders. Many aren’t even diagnosed until they’ve passed this pivotal age. Children born with hearing loss are at risk of developmental delay due to the communication issues. If not addressed immediately and intensively, these communication issues can lead to delays in learning, social skills and in behavioral problems.
“Every life experience is a language opportunity,” explained Mary Ann Spears, speech pathologist. “Communication is not a skill we are born with. Even simple words aren’t imbedded in our brains. We see a vase and hear it called a vase, but for a deaf child, how do you explain that? It becomes even more complicated with emotions and needs.”
Mary Ann Spears is a speech pathologist with more than 30 years of experience working with children. She currently works at Happy Hands Education Center, a school for children with hearing loss and communication disorders located in Broken Arrow.
“I am truly blessed to get to work at Happy Hands,” Mary Ann said. “This school creates a positive, nurturing environment for these children. It helps removes the anxiety and provide hope for the families of these kids, many of whom just want to help their children but don’t know how.”
One of those families is the DeYoungs. Tiffany DeYoung’s twin daughters, Alexys and Kaylah, were both diagnosed with progressive hearing loss in the summer of 2010, when they were barely 2 years old. With no language, spoken or signed, Tiffany said life was a struggle.
“All they did was scream and cry at home,” she said. “I was ready to pull my hair out because we couldn’t figure out how to help or what they wanted.” Then, while taking the girls to see Sesame Street Live, Tiffany ran into a stranger who asked if she had heard of Happy Hands.
“We took a tour and as soon as we walked in the building I knew that this was where our girls were supposed to be,” Tiffany said. “Before we left that day, we found out that it would cost us nothing! They have scholarships based on need and never turn a family away due to financial situations, so that every child can have the hope and chance at learning just like a child with hearing.”
Alexys and Kaylah are now healthy, happy 4-year-olds. They wear hearing aids, know sign language and have gained three and a half years of verbal language in just two years’ time. They’re also excellent spellers. “I guarantee they can spell better than most kids their age,” Tiffany laughed. “We learned finger spelling for everything. They ask me all the time to ‘spell that’, which is especially important for reading.”
Reading is a huge priority for the DeYoung family, mostly because they know that the average deaf adult only reads at a third grade level. In fact, education is a real struggle for individuals with hearing loss. High School is a big challenge and of those that graduate, only 40 percent enroll in college. Of that group, 70 percent drop out of college because they are unable to function at higher levels of education.
“It all goes back to language,” Mary Ann said. Language is the foundation of all self-expression and the building block upon which all other learning takes place. Without the basic ability to communicate or express themselves, Mary Ann says people, especially children, become frustrated, withdrawn, and unwilling or unable to participate in “normal” life. When this occurs in early childhood, development is affected, and children are never able to reach their full potential.
Tiffany is determined to make sure that’s not the case for her girls. “I want them to strive to do the best they can and to graduate college and go on to be whatever they want to be,” Tiffany said. “We know it starts with communication. If you don’t have language, you have nothing. My girls now have two languages, spoken and sign. We are forever indebted to Happy Hands and the staff who have given us a hope we never knew possible, for giving our girls the opportunity to succeed in life!”